It would be nice to think that football has moved on since the days when Robbie Fowler goaded Graeme Le Saux because he wasn’t the stereotypical footballer, but I somehow doubt that it has.
Hats off to Gareth Southgate for saying the [politically correct] things about sexuality and football, but the very culture of the game (especially in Britain) would have to change before players start to come out of the closet.
Perhaps it has a better chance than it ever has before in being accepted, given the broad mix of races in the dressing room, but the problems will not be in the dressing room.
Just listen to any football crowd and you will hear homophobia used as a weapon against players – at all levels. Just imagine, a Premier League player decides to announce that he’s gay. His next game is at Old Trafford or Newcastle. He will face 40,000 people using his honesty against him.
The younger generations may be more tolerant, but the older fans, who have been brought up on a diet of prejudice and mother-in-law jokes, will not warm to the left winger who has declared his preference for men.
Am I being unfair on football crowds? I don’t think so. Like him or loath him, Rafa Benitez has been treated abysmally at Chelsea (the man they should be expressing displeasure in is the owner, and they won’t do that) and the sick taunts at West Ham last week and at the United-Liverpool game, suggest that football supporters wallow in ignorance and bigotry. The people who chant such obscenities have no self respect and neither do they care what others think.
Want more evidence? Clubs host ladies days, forces days, youth days and disability days. They don’t often consider the gay community. Too many people still shuffle uncomfortably and look the other way….until that changes, the closet will remain closed when it comes to football.